Rebecca says, “Miranda July doesn’t live in Brooklyn, does she?” I say I do not think so. She says: “Then I’m taking her off Brooklyn Authors.” Which I did not realize we had a Brooklyn Authors shelf, but great, that makes sense.
We are six months into being parents and have been forced deeper into the borough due to space and money (i.e., the not having of these things) and are reshelving all the books from all the boxes that have been stacked last-moments-of-Jenga-like in the living room, waiting to topple over and crush our whole raison d’être who has just learned to crawl, N.B.
I was trying to figure out if all the Lethems should be lodged between the Hammetts and the Philip K. Dicks, or just the early Lethems or what (too: they’re all different sizes, these Lethems, so when they’re together it’s less than what one wants aesthetically – this is the room where the Good Books are to go, after all, but I just hate to separate them all since they came from the same brain), so if there’s a Brooklyn shelf, then great; I don’t have to think about it. The cell rings.
We are still waiting for Time Warner to come out and enable our phone, internet and cable service (the “triple play”), so we have been hurtling toward the maximum allotted minutes on the cell with no way to check how close we’re getting. Stay strong, asymptote! (I say “we” but this has been a Secret Fight Rebecca and I have been having, that I have not taken care of this yet.) I drop the Lethems on the couch and say hello.
The voice on the other end says, “Is Wing there?” I say no, I do not think so. Below the shelf for Books About Wizards that are Probably Too Big for Their Own Good, The Books Not the Wizards (e.g., Jonathan Strange; Harry Potter; some Lord of the Rings; some Oz reprints from Books of Wonder), Rebecca has put the Dave Eggerses and the Zadie Smiths next to each other (“So they can kiss”) and I have Borges’ Book of Imaginary Beings next to the Bible, a nice touch, I think. I have so much Borges, pulled off of stoops from our old neighborhood; I haven’t read one.
The voice says, “Is Wong there?” I realize what is happening. All of the Peter De Vries from my Peter De Vries kick last year are lined up together, in the order in which I read them and, not coincidentally I would submit, the order in which they appear in my estimation. Blood of the Lamb is first. The Cat’s Pajamas and Witch’s Milk is second: when I got that one from Alibris and opened it up, a piece of paper fell out: “Thank you,” it read, “You are right, I did enjoy his style. The ending of the first one will haunt me forever.” Both of those books are about a child dying, I am now sort of shocked to realize. Next to them is Mordecai Richler’s St. Urbain’s Horseman and Monkeys by Susan Minot, due to their having been purchased around the same time and the fact that they are of a similar height and are similarly Mylared. Monkeys had moments before been on Physically Small Volumes with Beautiful Covers that Make Up for the Contents (Lives of the Monster Dogs; Edison’s Eve; The Cheese Monkeys), but the cover isn’t all that damned beautiful and I kind of love that book. It is what’s inside that matters. As I said, I realize what is happening, but just say Nope.
The voice says, “Oh, I must have Winged the Wong number.” This is the first prank call I’ve gotten on my cell, ever, I realize. The phone lights up suddenly to let me know the call has been disconnected, a strange inversion. “Who was that?” Rebecca says. I pick up a Paul Auster (fucking Paul Auster!) and start to put him on the shelf reserved for Dostoyevsky if I ever decide I’m going to read Dostoyevsky, but then remember the Brooklyn Authors shelf. How many more minutes did I just lose on that call? It has spiraled my mood into someplace dark. We will never be done unpacking. We will never sleep for more than three straight hours again. We are not getting along. I can fit all the Austers next to the Lethems if I keep This Shape We’re In with the McSweeney’s Consortium, whose compositional uniformity is already null, so it doesn’t matter that I’m adding something else to it. But I don’t really want to give them more credit than they deserve (I’m over them). “Who was on the phone?” Rebecca asks. I have an idea. I start to tear out the pages of the Paul Austers and stuff them in between the spines of the other Brooklyn authors. This makes sense. “What are you doing?” Rebecca asks, “Who was that on the phone?” Fuck you, Paul Auster, I think. Fuck you New York Trilogy. Fuck you in particular, Timbuktu. Fuck you, Music of Chance, even if you allegedly inspired some of the books on the David Mitchell shelf, fuck you. As I’m tearing the pages out, I see a piece of paper with writing on it flutter to the ground. Rebecca picks it up and says, “Mr. Wong 925-8880?” This is my cell number (but my name is not “Mr. Wong” (see above phone conversation)). She hands the paper to me. I give up right there. The fact that a Paul Auster caliber plot twist occurs while I’m dismantling a Paul Auster book pretty much reduces me, as if by boiling. I do not know if this will work out.
But then I do something about it; I pull down the books on the shelves of Literary Geniuses Who Abandoned Their First Wives (which Auster could belong to, N.B.) and I hold them all in my arms, and I stand there, while the whole time Rebecca is asking what I’m doing, and for nine straight minutes I hold all 53 books in my arms and have you tried this? Because this is hard to do, and when I finally put them down, I do it on my terms and I tell her: I am ready to make this work. The phone is ringing again, but I turn it off and I do not know if this will work out but I say instead I want to make this work, I love our daughter, I love you, I am ready to make this work now, please help me make this work.
[orig. submitted in haste for this thing but just posting it now. It's really old! I'll back-date it, but sorry to anyone who hates old stuff that has to read this because of an RSS feed. Booo, old stuff.]